Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Moral Lessons

From a study on libertarianism:
We introduced Study 2 with [Ayn] Rand's claim that Western culture can only be reborn when it can be founded on “a rational ethics.” Consistent with Rand's writing and psychological research concerning the intuitive origins of moral reasoning [8], we found that libertarians were indeed less emotional (less disgust sensitivity, empathic concern, and neuroticism) than liberals and conservatives. This lack of emotional reactivity may underlie an indifference towards common moral norms, and an attraction to an ideology where these moral codes are absent, libertarianism. The only emotional reaction on which libertarians were not lowest was reactance – the angry reaction to infringements upon one's autonomy – for which libertarians scored higher than both liberals and conservatives. This disposition toward reactance may lead to the moralization of liberty and an attraction to an ideology that exalts liberty above other moral principles – namely, libertarianism.

Megan McArdle tells food writers to stop telling her what she should eat:

A food writer who is telling other people how they could eat, if they wanted to, is doing a great public service. A food writer who is telling other people how they should eat (just like me, except without my access to ingredients) is just obnoxious. You can't possibly know how they should eat, unless you have spent some time living their lives. 
And her friends could really wipe those smirks off their faces and stop telling her what to drink.

 And if I may insert a personal plea: could the bittermongers please knock it off with the sneers? Somehow, in the collective cocktail consciousness of America's hipsters, "bitter" has become synonymous with "sophisticated". Bitter beer is good beer, bitter cocktails are good cocktails, and the louts who like things thin or sweet deserve what they get, which is everyone else at the bar struggling to conceal their bemused smile. Yet there are many of us who hate, hate, hate bitter flavors not because we haven't been exposed to them, nor because we're unadventurous slobs who would really rather be hooked up to a glucose IV. Personally, I find bitter flavors like Campari so strong that even a sip is on the verge of being physically aversive, as if you were punching me in the tongue. That's not a matter of sophistication, but a matter of personal chemistry.

Or how much to eat. (Not that she is fat!)

It's not quite fair to say that most of the public health experts I've seen talking about obesity are thin people brightly telling fat people that "Everything would be fine if you'd just be more like me!" But it's not really that far off the mark, either. In the words of another friend who struggled with his weight, and got quite testy when I suggested weight loss was easy, "You've hit the pick six in the genetic lottery, and you think you earned it."

McArdle doesn't care if you want someone to change for his own good-his health, wealth or pleasure. You just mind your own business and she'll mind hers. You have no idea how other people should live until you have spent some time living their lives.

Unless you are poor.

Somehow, Americans used to manage to get and stay married despite much more limited financial resources; how did they perform this seemingly impossible feat? Virtually any answer you give is going to come back to some version of "norms."

[... A] systematic difference between the way the affluent and the poor form families is going to mean systematic differences in the outcomes for affluent and poor kids.
Trying to explain this all with a bad labor market or insufficient government benefits won't wash, either. It doesn't explain why people in 1930, who were much poorer in every sense than people today and had virtually nothing in the way of a government safety net, managed to get and stay married. As David Brooks notes, to explain the problem -- and to fix it -- you also need to talk about community norms.

In 1930 it was much more difficult to get a divorce and very soon after divorces plummeted because nobody could afford to leave. Divorces increased when it became easier to get one, when the Depression ended, or when wars ended. More marriages lead to more divorces, and most especially the younger the couple, the more likely they were to divorce. Conservative states marry and divorce more and marry younger than liberal states. Very religious people divorce less, moderately or non-religious people are much more likely to divorce. Conservative people, from colonial times to now, try to reduce the ability to divorce and liberals try to increase it.

But one thing cannot be disputed: two incomes are greater than one and parents with one income are at a great disadvantage. Which is why Megan McArdle has definitively proven that women should never stay home with their children and that a polygamous family is preferable to a two-parent family.

Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are -- in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents -- is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent. Children will spend less time with their noncustodial parent, especially if that parent has other offspring. Add in conflict between the parents over money and time, and it can infect relationships with the children. As one researcher told me when I wrote an article on the state of modern marriage, you frequently see fathers investing time and money with the kids whose mother they get along with the best, while the other children struggle along on crumbs.
People often argue that extended families can substitute, but of course, two-parent families also have extended families -- two of them -- so single-parent families remain at a disadvantage, especially because other members of the extended family are often themselves struggling with the challenges of single parenthood. Extended families just can't substitute for the benefits of a two-parent family. Government can't, either; universal preschool is not going to make up for an uninvolved parent, or one stretched too thin to give their kids enough time. Government can sand the rough edges off the economic hardship, of course, but even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home.
Women who work are forced to spend far less time and energy on their children, which is always bad for the children, as McArdle has proven. Several mothers looking after the children in one household will save money rather than several independent households and give more attention to the children. Some of the mothers can work, adding all-important income to the family. Surely if two incomes are good, four or five are even better. Any household with one woman and one man, especially if the woman stays home to tend her children, is cheating society and will lead to its ruin.  Megan McArdle said so.

Fortunately McArdle already has a solution to this problem. The social norms that say a woman or man should be able to leave a bad marriage if necessary could be changed somehow and she knows just how to do it. "Hollywoood" can simply show married people in movies and tv, and then marriage will be the norm among poor people, instead of divorce.

Entertainment is a surprisingly powerful venue for articulating social norms, and if Hollywood decided that it had a social responsibility to promote stable families and changed its story lines accordingly, that might actually do some good.
I'm not talking about sticking a few propaganda story lines into Very Special Episodes of some sitcom, which wouldn't do a darn thing. Rather, I'm saying that if Hollywood actually believed that married two-parent families were overwhelmingly optimal, that would naturally shape what they wrote, in a way that would in turn probably shape what Americans believe, and do.
To check McArdle's theory, let's look at the most popular movies of 1930, which surely led to the strong state of marriage at that time.

1. All Quiet on the Western Front Universal / $3,000,000 Lew Ayres
2. Whoopee! United Artists / $2,600,000 Eddie Cantor
3. Hell's Angels United Artists / $8,000,000 Jean Harlow, Ben Lyon and James Hall
4. Animal Crackers Paramount / $1,500,000 Marx Brothers
5. Feet First Paramount / $1,300,000 Harold Lloyd
6. The Rogue Song MGM Lawrence Tibbett
7. The Life of the Party Warner Bros. Winnie Lightner
8. Hold Everything Warner Bros. Winnie Lightner, Joe E. Brown
9. Sunny MGM Marilyn Miller
10. The Vagabond King Paramount Dennis King, Jeanette MacDonald
11. Song of the Flame Warner Bros. Noah Beery, Bernice Claire
12. The Green Goddess

I am embarrassed to note that I have seen only one of these movies. Let's check Mr. Wikipedia to see how strongly these movies encouraged marriage.

Hell's Angels-"Roy (James Hall) and Monte Rutledge (Ben Lyon) are very different British brothers. Strait-laced Roy loves and idealizes the apparently demure Helen (Jean Harlow). Monte, on the other hand, is a womanizer. Their German friend and fellow Oxford student Karl (John Darrow) is against the idea of having to fight England when World War I breaks out. Meanwhile, the oblivious Monte is caught in the arms of a woman by her German officer husband (Lucien Prival), who insists upon a duel the next day. Monte flees that night. When Roy is mistaken for his brother, he goes ahead with the duel and is shot in the arm. Karl is conscripted into the German Air Force, and the two British brothers enlist in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Monte only to get a kiss from a girl at the recruiting station. When Roy finally introduces Monte to Helen, she invites Monte to her flat. Monte tries to rebuff her advances for his brother's sake, but gives in. The next morning, however, he is for once ashamed of himself."

Yikes! Not that moral, is it? Perhaps others are better.

The Green Goddess-"A small plane carrying three British citizens — Major Crespin, his estranged wife Lucilla, and pilot Dr. Traherne — becomes lost and is forced to crash land in the tiny realm of Rukh, somewhere near the Himalaya Mountains. The Raja who rules the land welcomes them. However, as his three brothers are soon to be executed for murder by the British, his subjects believe that their Green Goddess has delivered into their hands three victims for their revenge. The three are to be killed once the brothers are dead. The Raja professes to his guests no great love for his brothers, as they had posed a danger to the succession of his own children, but sees no reason to anger his people. However, he becomes attracted to Lucilla and offers to spare her life if she will become his wife. She refuses."

That must be the moral bit. How about The Rogue Song? "The story takes place in Russia in the year 1910. Yegor (Lawrence Tibbett), a dashing (as well as singing) bandit leader meets Princess Vera (Catherine Dale Owen) at a mountain inn. They fall in love, but the relationship is shattered when Yegor kills Vera's brother, Prince Serge, for raping his sister, Nadja, and driving her to suicide. Yegor kidnaps Vera, forcing her to live a life of lowly servitude among the bandits. Vera manages to outwit Yegor, who is captured by soldiers and flogged. Vera begs Yegor's forgiveness. Although still in love with each other, they realize they cannot be together, at least for the time being."

How immoral! What a terrible example for American young personhood, Mr. Hollywood!

The Life of the Party-"Winnie Lightner and Irene Delroy work in a Broadway music shop. Lightner sings while Delroy plays the piano. Eddie Kane, their employer, complains to them that they are selling as much sheet music as they should be and that they will have to change their technique. After Lightner sings a song for a customer, after which, one of Delroy's admirers, Monsieur LeMaire (Charles Judels), an eccentric Frenchman who owns a modiste shop, enters the shop. He begins annoying Kane when he stars chatting with Delroy and asking her out and when Kane tells him to come back after they finish working Judels flies into a rage. LeMaire throws sheet music all over the store and then throw a phonograph out the front store window.

Because of this, Kane immediately fires both Delroy and Lightner. The scene moves to the apartment where Lightner and Delroy live. Delroy is reading the newspaper and finds out that her boyfriend has eloped with a rich elderly widow. She is so angry that she accepts Lightner's proposal that they be gold-diggers. Lightner suggests that their first victim be Judels and so the next day they begin to work for him. Judels soon asks Delroy and Lightner to a private party. Lightner tells Judels that they would love to attend but that they have no clothes. Judels tells them that they can borrow all the clothes they want from his modiste shop. Lightner and Delroy agree to attend the party and then pack off all the clothes they can carry with them. They head off to the train station with their luggage of expensive clothes and decide to go to Havana to make some real money.

Once Lightner and Delroy arrive in Havana they find that a millionaire named Smith, who invented a famous soft drink, is staying at the hotel. They assume that a mean spirited, and snobby acting man, played by John Davidson, is the millionaire but the true millionaire is a young, pleasant and down to earth man played by Jack Whiting. Delroy falls in love with Whiting, much to the chagrin of Lightner who forces her to try to get Davidson. Davidson, unbeknownst to Lightner and Delroy, is actually a gigolo looking for a rich woman to pay his meal ticket. Just as Delroy is to marry Davidson, Judels arrives and exposes Lightner and Delroy. In spite of this, Whiting, who has fallen in love with Delroy, writes a check to Judels to cover the amount he lost, and he ends up winning Delroy as his future wife."

Well, at least it ended with marriage, right? That's good!

How about Sunny? "Marylin Miller plays the part of an American circus performer, doing her act in a British circus, who is engaged to a man she does not love. A former boyfriend, played by Lawrence Gray, stops by to see her before taking boat back to the United States. Miller realizing that she loves Gray, decides to run away. She embarks on the same boat that Lawrence takes. Her father, who realizes what his daughter has done, reaches the boat just as it is about to leave and manages to board it. While on board, Gray becomes engaged to be married to a wealthy socialite (Barbara Bedford). Miller learns that she will not be allowed to disembark in the United States without a passport. In order to land, Miller marries an American friend, intending to divorce him as soon as she is safely inside the United States. After arrive in the states, Miller tells Gray about her love for him. Bedford overhears them and tells Gray that she will announce their engagement at a party that very night. Disappointed, Miller decides to return to England, but Gray proposes to her just as she is about to leave."

Hmmm. It seems that the media didn't encourage marriage very much at all, unless everyone was singing and dancing or hanging off the side of a building first. Perhaps we should all sing and dance more and marriages will bloom like the cherry tree in spring. Megan McArdle says it will work and that's good enough for me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Karma is a Bitch And She Wants Your House

It seems that nobody can do anything about gentrification, which is a great shame. Housing and land are too expensive for the poor and the rich don't want them there anyway.

But-here's the funny thing. Megan McArdle is accustomed to thinking of herself as la crème de la crème but the wealthy have become so very wealthy that she is now middle class in comparison. One day she, too, will be pushed out of her neighborhood by her bête noir, the trust fund class. They will buy up her row of little Victorian brownstones and tear them all down and build a mansion with park-like gardens for themselves and their little darlings Pierpont, Hunt and Caroline Eugenie.

No doubt McArdle will be very very happy to be pushed out to the suburbs like every other schlub since the land and mansions will be far, far too expensive for poorer people like her. And what can one do when the Free Market Fairy decides that market forces are immovable? Absolutely nothing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

In Which The Big Thinker Thinks Little Thoughts

Friday Food Post: An Easier Way To Brown Meat--Megan McArdle foodsplains stew and tells us that Cooks, Illustrated's stew recipe is a time saver. She does not tell us why she has to brown meat when she has a Thermomix, the greatest time-saving invention in the history of cooking.

Virtual Reality's Vomit Problem: I am a special snowflake.

Fewer Tax Refunds, Fewer Scams: We can't solve the problem of tax return fraud because everyone wants their refund money right now. So we should stop paying taxes but politicians will never let that happen.

You have a tax refund check but she needs cash now!
Call Megan McArdle!
877 Cash Now!
She's shafted thousands, she'll shaft you, too.
One lump of coal she will give to you.
You get tax deductions but she needs cash now!
Call Megan McArdle!
877 Cash Now!

Obamacare Case Is Not Life Or Death: My Moops defense is not ridiculous, you're ridiculous. And my healthcare-kills defense is not ridiculous either! How would you like it if we said Roe vs. Wade was ridiculous, huh? Burn!

There's more nobody-can-do-anything-ever that is not worth discussion. McArdle seems to be much occupied with her book appearances and mentions the book very often. It is perfectly natural that she would have less time for her little blog.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's All About Me

Due to circumstances outside my control I have even less time to post than in the past but I will do what I can.

So let's take a quick peek at the literary crimes against humanity committed by that little libertarian scamp named McMegan McArdle.

Ah, the blogosphere has been buzzing with trivia and trivial minds leap to add their two cents. (Or tuppence, as McArdle no doubt wishes she could get away with saying.)  There is a photo that might be this or might be that and everyone has an opinion. Little did you know, however,  that the real subject of universal interest is Megan McArdle. Don't believe me? Just listen.

My most trafficked post ever was this quickie, which I wrote while traveling, squatting on the floor of an airport with my laptop balanced on my knees. I think it took me 15 minutes, most of which was spent searching Google Books for evidence that Martin Luther King had actually given voice to a quotation that was, at that moment, going viral on Twitter and Facebook. He hadn’t, but the fake quote got millions of posts and retweets -- and every time someone posted or tweeted it, someone else replied with my skeptical take. Hello, Internet fame.

Needless to say, if you had asked me while I was sitting in the airport if you thought this post had a shot at being the most-trafficked thing I would ever write, I would have laughed. I have an interest in fake quotations, and I had a few minutes between flights, so I thought of it as a fun squib to share with my readers, not as a potential megahit. Also needless to say, I was wrong.

Needless to say! Although McArdle actually does seem eager to admit error, since the error exposed her enormous popularity and humility not her innumeracy, mendacity, avidity, or insensitivity, her usual "errors" in service of the class war her masters hired her to fight.

McArdle trots out a sociology study that validates her need for an authoritarian hierarchy.

We can theorize that there is some quality threshold, but beyond that, social effects take over: Knowing that someone else likes something makes you more interested in it, and so some combination of early rankings and random variation among the groups creates a unique outcome in each social network. It’s our old friend path dependence in viral form.

Knowing that someone else likes something might make you more interested in taking a look at something but it doesn't necessarily mean you are more interested in it than before, when the thing was less popular. It's our old friend herd mentality, slavishly followed by people who are terrified of going over their tribe's boundaries. Or, in McArdle's case, eager to lead the tribal elite as a elegant and erudite arbitrator of popular taste.

Post-hoc, of course, we construct all sorts of reasons that popular things are popular. But as Watts points out, what we’re often doing is not so much explaining the popularity as describing the attributes of the popular thing: The Mona Lisa is popular because it’s so, well, Mona Lisa-esque. And those explanations tend to leave out the more random elements -- like the fact that the Mona Lisa wasn’t that popular until it was stolen in a famous museum robbery.

It's so interesting when conservatives have thinky thoughts. The Mona Lisa is popular because the Mona Lisa is popular. Everyone knows that. But did you know this tidbit I heard on NPR that is contrary to popular thought?

Maybe there’s no particular reason that millions of us wanted to spend our Thursday evening playing with a wedding-themed optical illusion, except that we all ended up doing just that. And most of us enjoyed it, so maybe randomness is not the right word. Maybe we should call it “serendipity” and leave it at that.

 You can have your Mona Lisa smile. The McArdle word salad is a masterpiece in its own way.